Clean eating’s dirty little secret

The diet tides are turning. When I was growing up when you heard the word diet, you thought Atkins, south beach and the dreaded cabbage soup diet…all ways of loosing weight as quickly as possible, of course endorsed by the celebrity of the day. Now the biggest food trends don’t even use the word diet. The world is becoming hooked on healthy eating. Now if you hear celebrities talking about food it’s all about whole organic plant based gluten free superfoods!

This type of food trend used to mainly be confined to a small niche of hippies left over from the 60s, but it has now gone mainstream. The new must have accessory has gone from a birkin bag to a green juice and yoga mat. Actually yoga is already last season, it’s now all about barre.

Like any bestselling diet before it, the best way to sell any diet seems to be to come up with a set of rules for your soon to be cult followers. In this new health obsessed world self proclaimed food experts have risen to fame promoting their own brand of healthy eating. Which means telling you what you should and shouldn’t be eating, telling you what foods are ‘good’ and which ‘bad’ foods to cut out. ‘Clean eating’ soon became the new term to describe this trend. This is healthy eating in a brand new shiny package…on steroids!

According to these ‘experts’ the basic ‘clean eating’ principles seem to be to cut out processed food, eat whole foods and as many vegetables as you can. So far so good. But past that you may also need to cut gluten, dairy, sugar, become vegan and also if there is anything left you can eat you should only eat it raw. Despite sounding like a diet you would feed a rabbit, it can be surprisingly easy to be seduced by these diets. They are fronted by picture perfect instagram stars who claim their diets have made them better, brighter, sparklier versions of themselves. Eat what I eat and you can be just like me. You’d be forgiven for thinking that you will be granted the elixir of life.

But when did eating healthy suddenly mean you had to cut out all these foods? Where did all these rules come from. Well most of them seem to come from something that someone read on someone’s blog who read it from someone else’s blog, who read it from somewhere else…you get the picture. It’s basically one big game of chinese whispers. It’s generally just food myths that have been passed around the internet, retold so many times that people just assume they are true. But if any of these people really bothered to try and find out the real story behind these claims they would realise that most of what is being said is based off very questionable psuedoscience, if any real facts at all.

These diets can be pretty extreme, cutting out multiple entire food groups. I don’t argue that there may be people who may benefit from doing certain diets, whether it’s gluten free, dairy free, or vegan. There are many people with illnesses/intolerances/allergies that do seem to benefit from following a certain diet, myself included. But that doesn’t mean that everyone else should be following the same diet. While these may work for some people, any diet that cuts out entire food groups can lead to nutritional deficiencies if not done properly. Apart from corrupting your love of food, these diets really shouldn’t be promoted as what should be the status quo, but approached with caution.

A big problem I have with these diets is that extra side of guilt they are served with. The language that is used when talking about ‘clean eating’ can be extreme, foods being called ‘evil’, ‘poisonous’ and ‘toxic’. The word ‘clean’ implies that everything else is a bad, dirty little secret that you should feel guilty for even thinking about. If you took note of all the advice out there, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there is nothing safe to eat anymore. Guilt has become the best new diet pill on the market. This is where I think ‘clean eating’ is the bad thing that needs to be cut from our diets. While it’s great that more people than ever seem to be taking an interest of eating heathly, it shouldn’t mean we need to feel guilty every time you eat a slice of pizza.

Food is not purely about health, it is also a little bit, well a lot about pleasure. I don’t care what cauliflower crust pizza you try to tell me is ‘just as good’ as normal pizza, it’s just not, and sometimes pizza is just what you got to eat (except if you are really gluten intolerant of course). I completely empathize with anyone who genuinely has to give up foods, it’s really no fun. But as I’m sure as anyone who has had to give up any type of food would agree, free from diets are not some pinnacle of health diet we should all aim to achieve. They are hard, though to follow diets, that most only have the willpower to follow when medically necessary. If you don’t have some sort of food intolerance, you shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about eating food. That is the part that is unhealthy.

Like all the best viral trends clean eating looks like it’s already had it’s day and I for one will not be sad to see it go. Popular wellness bloggers have already started to distance themselves from the whole clean eating thing, some have even started including previously restricted foods. There was probably always going to be a timeline for clean eating. You package up a diet, making it shiny and new, offering promises of better health…but what happens when these results aren’t delivered. When people consume these so called super foods and don’t feel any different. When they cheat, eat a bit of bread and don’t feel any worse for it. The diet quickly starts to loose it’s shine. But the trend may have already left it’s mark, even if it’s a slight tinge of guilt when someone eats that slice of pizza. Food myths are much easier to spread than they are to rein back in. It doesn’t matter what label you give it, selling hyped up health information is bad.

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